STATELINE — Stephen Curry arrived here late Wednesday morning for his pro-am round, and his gallery was huge.
Media members and tournament officials at the 27th American Century Championship alike commented on the vast number of fans watching his every move. Several people estimated his gallery to be at least 500. Everywhere you looked around Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course there was an adult or child wearing a Curry jersey or a Warriors jersey.
Phil Weidinger, who handles publicity for the tournament, estimates the crowds might be 20 percent bigger this year because of Curry. Even security officials said they hadn’t seen a Wednesday so busy.
“Steph Curry impacts this tournament in a number of ways,” Weidinger said. “One is the attendance. Second is his reputation. He is one of the most popular players in sports, a fan favorite and an absolute gentleman.”
Mark Rypien, a two-time champion, agreed.
“Obviously having Steph Curry here is huge,” he said during a press conference. “The Bay Area is close, and it gets a lot of people to come from the Bay Area.”
FEMALE GOLFERS ABOUND: There are five women — Olympian Abby Wambach, Golf Channel personality Lisa Cornwell, long drive specialist Heather LeMaster, NHL commentator Kathryn Tappen and model/golfer Blair O’Neal — in the field.
It’s the largest female contingent in the history of the event.
“Having the gals here, the five gals here this year, they’re going to bring a throng of people that want to see them do well as Annika (Sorenstam) did a couple of years ago,” Rypien said. “This is pretty cool.”
The 35-year-old O’Neal is an interesting story. She made the U.S. Junior Ryder Cup team, won a high school state championship in Arizona and then played at Arizona State where she was a two-time NCAA long drive champ.
After turning pro in 2004, O’Neal also started modeling. She played on the Symetra Tour, but an injury stopped her from playing, and she focused on modeling, including an appearance in Playboy. In 2009, she was runner-up on Big Break, a Golf Channel reality show. She came back the next season and won.
She played in the Diamond Resorts Invitational in Florida back in January, and she believes she will be able to hang in there with the big boys.
“I’ve been fortunate to kind of blend two different careers,” she said recently. “To play professional golf at the top level, you can’t have distractions. Golf is hard enough and to play at the top level you can’t have any distractions. I’ve done a pretty good job of balancing things.
“I’m super excited to be playing in the American Century because it’s aired on NBC. I hear there are a lot of people who come out to watch. It’s a huge honor to be asked to play. I played in the Diamond Resorts with these guys, and they can crush the ball. I hit the ball far for a girl. As long is the weather is good and I don’t have a ton of wind in my face I can keep up with them. I think it will be fun to compete with them at the same tees and keep up.”
O’Neal placed second to LeMaster in the long drive competition on Tuesday. She registered nine drives on the fairway with a best of 325 yards.
NO LOVE FOR HOCKEY?: Without question hockey gets less national media attention than football, basketball and baseball.
That irks guys like Jeremy Roenick, Mike Eruzione and T.J. Oshie, who are all in the field for this week’s ACC tournament.
“I hate the way hockey is viewed through the media,” Roenick said during a recent conference call. “It drives me crazy that hockey doesn’t get the attention it deserves through the hockey media.
“You know, you watch ESPN; you watch SportsCenter and you’ll be lucky to get one or two short clips of a highlight. You listen to sports radio. If they even talk about the NHL in general, you have found the right station or were lucky to find the right station. The NHL has a squeaky clean image. They are great people, and they’re great in the community. They stay out of trouble. Not very often do you see problems with the law.”
“It’s very frustrating that hockey has not taken on anywhere near the coverage it should have,” said Eruzione. “Every day I get up and go to the newspaper, and it’s on page 4 or 5. I still think the toughest championship to win is the Stanley Cup.”
GAGNE ON THE MOVE: Eric Gagne, former all-star reliever, has bought property next door to Edgewood at the Tahoe Beach Club.
Gagne lost by a point to Mulder in last year’s event, and he’s one of the biggest hitters, if not the biggest, in the field.
“I love it here,” he said. “Hopefully I’ll get better at the course; get used to it, playing more rounds.”
That could be bad news for the rest of the competitors.
“That’s not fair,” said former tennis pro Mardy Fish.
“That’s like home-course advantage,” added defending champ Mark Mulder.